The Town of Mulgrave, on Nova Scotia's Strait of Canso, has withdrawn its application to amalgamate with the Municipality of the District of Guysborough.
The move was made after Guysborough decided it could not come to an agreement with the province over financial compensation and would contest the amalgamation process.
"We didn't want forced amalgamation," said Ralph Hadley, the mayor of Mulgrave. "We wanted to keep a great working relationship [with Guysborough] because we do share some services with them."
In a statement posted on Guysborough's website, municipal officials insist the cost of taking on Mulgrave could total $35 million — more than double the $17 million estimated by an independent consultant.
The list of costs includes:
- Upgrades to Route 344, which runs through the town.
- Demolition of a closed school.
- Improvements to the water and sewer systems.
- Remediation costs for a closed landfill site.
"There is no way we could accept the significant financial and environmental liabilities associated with this potential amalgamation," Guysborough said in its statement.
As part of Mulgrave's dissolution process, several studies were conducted and submitted to the Utility and Review Board as evidence. The province said a transition team — which included representatives from both Guysborough and Mulgrave — hired independent firms to conduct most of the studies.
2 studies, 2 cost estimates
One of the firms was Opus Consulting, which found Mulgrave's infrastructure costs to be about $17 million. Guysborough also did its own study.
There's no reason to believe the estimate from Opus isn't accurate, a spokesperson for the province said Thursday.
"Only Guysborough could answer why their study doesn't match the Opus study," Sarah Gillis, a spokesperson for Municipal Services, wrote in an email.
Amalgamation hearings at the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board were scheduled to begin March 21. Town officials say the withdrawal means the hearing will likely be cancelled.
Mulgrave's mayor admits the town is still in a tough financial situation.
"We have enough money for the CAO until November. After that I don't know what's going to happen," said Hadley.
Short one councillor
He said Mulgrave could try amalgamating with the municipalities of Richmond, Inverness or Antigonish or the towns of Port Hawksbury or Antigonish.
The province will not likely force a solution.
"We believe that structural change is best when all parties are willing," said Gillis.
Town officials will meet with officials from Municipal Affairs to talk about the next steps.
With amalgamation is off the table for now, Mulgrave will have to try once again to fill a vacant councillor position that was not filled in the municipal elections last October.